President Donald Trump is weighing drafting an executive order mandating that all U.S. food aid be delivered by American ships, Reuters reported Thursday, and even people in his own party are already opposed to the idea.
Right now, USAID — the agency that oversees American humanitarian programs — and the U.S. Department of Agriculture require that 90 percent of all food aid be sourced from U.S. producers, while 50 percent of aid must be transported on ships bearing a U.S. flag. The Trump administration is reportedly considering upping that second requirement, which is known as the “cargo preference,” to as high as 100 percent.
But while supporters say the policy may fulfill Trump’s campaign pledge to put “America First,” creating more jobs for American workers, many conservatives argue that the current cargo preference is already costly and impedes government efficiency. Plus, because food aid accounts for a very small slice of the overall shipping industry, it’s unlikely that many new jobs would be created by increasing the cargo preference.
Because the cargo preference cuts the United States off from being able to accept more competitive bids from foreign shipping groups, critics say, the policy leads the costs of shipping food aid to spike.
“Cargo preference alone increases annual shipping costs by at least $60 million. Combined with the United States’ food sourcing requirements, the policy adds up to $300 million a year to food-aid transportation expenditures,” a November report by the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute found. “Taken together, these sourcing and shipping policies have contributed to a situation in which only 40 percent of the funding for Food for Peace, USAID’s biggest food-aid program, was used for food in 2012, the most recent year for which such data is available.”
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, of Tennessee, has also been a vocal critic of the already-existing cargo preference. Along with Delaware’s Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, Corker has written legislation to lessen the requirement, which his office said makes “emergency food too slow, too expensive, or locally inappropriate.”
Even the government agrees that the current cargo requirement is likely a bad idea. A 2015 Government Accountability Report found that the cargo requirement increased the overall cost of shipping food by 23 percent between April 2011 and fiscal year 2014, and called the benefits of the current policy “unclear.” And though some supporters argue that the cargo requirement increases American military might, because U.S. commercial ships carrying food aid could be taken over by the military in times of conflict, the report found it’s unclear whether commercial ships and their sailors are even equipped to keep up with the nation’s modern military.
USAID declined to comment, referring VICE News to the White House. The White House did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment, but spokesperson Natalie Storm told Reuters, “We don’t comment on any potential EOs [executive orders] that may or may not be in the works.”
Cover: A Sudanese docker walks past a U.S. aid shipment organized by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Food Programme at Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast, on May 5, 2016. SHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images.